WR Sammie Stroughter was one of the promising young players who set a new franchise record in 2009
In 2008, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' franchise record for most total yards of offense in a season fell (new mark: 5,456), as did the individual mark for single-season scoring (Matt Bryant, 131 points). The team tied its mark for most return touchdowns in a season (seven) and Brian Griese established a new single-game record with 67 pass attempts against Chicago. A number of other records, near-records and milestones were achieved during that campaign.
In 2007, Jeff Garcia compiled a 1.22% interception rate that set a new standard in the Bucs' record book. Earnest Graham scored a touchdown in six consecutive games along the way, a new Buc record, and the team as a whole racked up a 91.7 passer rating that was it's best ever. Among the very near-misses was a 43.9-yard gross punting average by Josh Bidwell (second all-time) and a 4.17 yards-per-carry average in the ground game (also second).
And so on.
Like any team in the NFL, the Buccaneers rewrite a portion of their record book every season. No matter the final win-loss record, it's virtually inevitable that some standout player or group is going to do something better than it has ever been done in the Bucs' universe.
That was true in 2009, as well, even as the team struggled to a 3-13 finish. It was not one of the most prolific record-breaking seasons in team annals, in part because a young and transitioning team took some time to find its way on both offense and defense. What was most notable about the team's record-book edits in 2009 was not how many there were, but who made them happen. Yes, it was a young team...and it was a handful of the greener players who made their marks.
Josh Freeman, Sammie Stroughter, Clifton Smith, Barrett Ruud, Aqib Talib...all part of the young core the Bucs are trying to build around, and all part of record-breaking efforts in 2009. Throw in key trade addition Kellen Winslow - not exactly a senior citizen himself - and the Bucs' new records in '09 were less a testament to an outstanding season and more a glimpse into a potentially bright future.
The following Buccaneer records were broken in 2009:
**Most Receptions by a Tight End, Season: 77 by Kellen Winslow
Most Receiving Yards by a Tight End, Season: 88 by Kellen Winslow**
The former Brown came to the Bucs in exchange for second and fifth-round picks (in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, respectively) and immediately inserted himself into the discussion of the greatest Tampa Bay tight ends ever. Jimmie Giles went to four Pro Bowls and is eighth on the team's all-time receptions list, and thus still has the upper hand in the long term debate. But no tight end has ever had a better single season than Winslow's debut with the team in 2009, and given the Bucs' overall struggles, it could be a sign of even bigger things to come.
Winslow's 77 receptions beat the previous record of 62, set by Jackie Harris in 1995, by a whopping 24% of the old mark. Winslow's 884 yards took one of Giles' records, as he had established the high of 786 way back in 1981. Winslow's two 100-yard games in 2009 didn't set a new record - that still belongs to Giles, who had three in 1985 - but he was the first Buc tight end to accomplish that feat since Harris in 1995.
Most Interceptions in a Game (tied): 3 by Aqib Talib, at Washington, 10/4/09
Talib didn't knock his fellow cornerback starter, Ronde Barber, off a pedestal with his three-pick game at Washington, but he did finally give him some company.
Until Talib victimized the Redskins' Jason Campbell three times on October 4, Barber had been the only player in the Bucs' 34-year history to intercept a trio of passes in a single game. Barber did it first against New Orleans on December 23, 2001, then got the Saints again on December 4, 2005. The two-pick game has been pulled off 46 other times in team history, but only Barber and Talib have managed three.
While we're on defense, one of Ruud's accomplishments is worth noting, even if it's not technically a new record. Like Talib, Ruud joined an established Buc great in what had been a one-person club in team history. Ruud's 205 tackles on the season made him just the second player in franchise history to eclipse 200 in that category in a single campaign. He fell nine tackles shy of Hardy Nickerson's 1993 record of 214 but handily surpassed such years as Shelton Quarles' 196-tackle 2005, Nickerson's 194 in 1997 and three seasons in the 180s by Derrick Brooks.
Buccaneers.com recently looked at the potential Ruud and his fellow linebackers showed down the stretch in 2009.
Best Kickoff Return Average, Season: 29.5 by Sammie Stroughter and 29.1 by Clifton Smith
We list both players' final numbers here, even though only one can hold the top spot, because those were the two best single-season averages in franchise history. The mark previously belonged to Mark Jones, who set it at 28.6 just two years ago.
It's also worth listing both players because an argument could be made that Smith's performance was a little more impressive. Stroughter, who set his mark on just 11 returns, did not run back enough kickoffs to qualify for the NFL lead in that category. However, the Buccaneers' record book has always maintained a standard of just 10 returns in a season to qualify for the record, so Stroughter gets his name in the book.
Smith, however, was the NFL's leader in that category in 2009, as he set his average on 31 returns, enough to qualify for the league charts. Smith is the only player in franchise history who has ever averaged more than 27 yards per kickoff return in a season in which he had more than 16 attempts. His mark this past season topped his own "record" of 27.6 yards per return set just last year during his rookie campaign.
Smith didn't take over the Bucs' return job until almost midseason in 2008, and he lost close to half of his 2009 follow-up to a pair of concussions. The Buccaneers are eager to see what marks Smith can topple in a full 16-game campaign.
**Fewest Fumbles Lost, Season: 5, Team
Most Kickoff Return Yardage, Season: 1,630, Team
Best Kickoff Return Average, Season: 26.3, Team**
As we discussed on Buccaneers Insider recently, the Bucs' extra work on ball security during training camp appears to have paid off.
Tampa Bay lost only five fumbles all season, the fewest the team has ever given away in a single campaign. It's hard to pin this one solely on the team's young players, but it is impressive that such a youthful roster could avoid that problem so well. It's especially impressive that the team's primary tailback trio of Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham went the entire season without losing a fumble.
Obviously, the other two team records set in 2009 were something less than a surprise, given the individual marks by Stroughter and Smith discussed above. For the first time in Buc history, the team led the NFL in kickoff return average for an entire season.
**Most Yards Passing, Rookie, Season: 1,857 by Josh Freeman
Most Touchdown Passes, Rookie, Season: 10 by Josh Freeman**
These may not be the most stunningly prolific records the Buccaneers set in 2009, but they do hold the most promise. Tampa Bay drafted Freeman 17th overall in the '09 draft believing he could settle in as that elusive "franchise quarterback" for the next decade or more. As part of that plan, they had intended to let Freeman spend his rookie season on the sideline, absorbing the NFL for his eventual insertion into the lineup.
Instead, Freeman took over the reins after the Bucs' unexpected 0-7 starts, and he immediately led the team to its first victory, a 38-28 upending of playoff-bound Green Bay. Freeman would go on to start the season's final nine games, producing two more victories in December, including one over top NFC seed New Orleans in the Superdome.
Along the way, Freeman broke the rookie marks for yards and touchdown passes set by Bruce Gradkowski in 2006.
Freeman experienced the usual rookie ups and downs during his nine starts, but he also showed off a strong arm that could make virtually any throw. His numbers projected to 16 games would be approximately 3,300 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Bucs expect even more than that from Freeman in the long run, but his half-season debut was enough to keep optimism high regarding that franchise quarterback projection.
In fact, all of the team records set by the Buccaneers in 2009, while not overwhelming in number, speak to a more promising future.